Monday, December 28, 2015

Even use it away from home

My father began chemo last April and it damaged the nerves in his fingers to the point he couldn't handle a cell phone. My brother convinced me that as medical power of attorney for my father I should carry a cell phone. So I took Dad's. The hospital called me on it a few times.

It is a simple phone Dad bought around 2010. It doesn't even do text. Dad bought minutes for it as needed. When I started using it there were about 1800 minutes on it along with a renewal date of Dec. 29. Over the summer and early fall I used about 200 minutes. I've been keeping it in the car in case of emergencies, but have used it only a couple times.

Since it was time for a renewal I called the company. I said I need to renew but I have so many minutes I don't want to buy more. I found that's not possible. I can still use the 1600 minutes, but to extend the usage time I must buy more. I consented to 30 days and 30 minutes for $10. I could have gotten a year and 400 minutes for $99. I can't imagine using that much.

Yes, I'm quite aware that I could use it instead of my landline and – gosh! – even use it when I'm not at home. At least until I use up those 1630 minutes.

But the sound quality on this beast isn't all that good. And I simply don't like having to manage a phone in my pocket.

Another way to look at this is to ignore the accumulated minutes and only consider that it will cost me $99 a year to have a phone in my car. Is it worth it? Probably not.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Actually snake oil

Lynn Parramore, writing for Huffington Post Politics, interviewed Orsola Costantini, Senior Economist at the Institute for New Economic Thinking, about the Cyclically Adjusted Budget used by many governments around the world. It is an imprecise statistical estimate that guides government officials when they decide what to spend money on and how much money to collect in taxes.

In the 1940s the CAB was a great thing. It helped convince business owners that policies to put Americans to work after the war were good for business. It allowed the economic experts and the budget wonks, not just politicians, to give blessings to these policies.

But because it is imprecise the CAB is easily manipulated. In these times of income inequality and power held by the 1% we know who is doing the manipulating and in whose favor. The use of the CAB allows politicians and businessmen to...

* Use language that is technical and obscure, giving a veneer of objectivity that is indisputable.

* Avoid taking responsibility of their decisions. The CAB and budget wonks made me do it.

* Make drastic cuts in social spending as well as personal pay and benefits in the name of economic science, the smooth running of capitalism, or to keep inflation low.

* Limit choices available to fix a budgetary situation. We can't raise taxes! We'll face economic doom!

Through the CAB governments are able suck money from the poor to give to the rich.

Costantini said:
I suppose this shows the limits of democracy when information, knowledge, and ultimately power are unequally distributed.
Even the name of this tool, the “cyclically adjusted budget,” carries an aura of respect. It diverts our attention. We don’t question it. It creates a barrier between the individual and the political realm: it undermines democratic participation itself. This obscure theory validates, with its authority, a big economic mistake that sounds like common sense but is actually snake oil — the notion that the federal government budget is like a household budget. Actually, it isn’t. Your household doesn’t collect taxes. It doesn’t print money. It works very differently, yet the nonsense that it should behave exactly like a household budget gets repeated by politicians and policymakers who really just want to squeeze ordinary people.

Bill Moyers, also writing for Huffington Post Politics, takes a look at the budget bill recently passed by Congress and quickly signed by Obama. He lists many of the goodies for the 1% tucked in its 2000 pages. Did we expect anything else? The official spin, which news anchors uncritically amplified, was that it was a bipartisan bill that proved Washington can work. It isn't a perfect bill, but does a lot of good things.

Moyers asks the important questions: Washington works for whom? It does a lot of good things for whom? At what price?

Moyers wrote:
Can we at least face the truth? The plutocrats and oligarchs are winning. The vast inequality they are creating is a death sentence for government by consent of the people at large. Did any voter in any district or state in the last Congressional election vote to give that billion dollar loophole to a handful of billionaires? To allow corporations to hide their political contributions? To add $1.4 trillion to the national debt? Of course not. It is now the game: Candidates ask citizens for their votes, then go to Washington to do the bidding of their donors. And since one expectation is that they will cut the taxes of those donors, we now have a permanent class that is afforded representation without taxation.

Not a mental illness

A moment to commemorate psychiatrist Robert L. Spitzer. He died on Friday at the age of 83. He is worth noting for a few reasons:

Starting in 1974 he was instrumental in applying scientific standards to psychiatry. That eventually resulted in a much revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the 3rd version published in 1980. This lists known mental disorders, describes the symptoms, and recommends treatment in an orderly and consistent manner.

In 1973 he played a key part in declassifying homosexuality as a mental illness. Homosexuality did not appear in the update to the DSM printed in 1974.

In 2001 he conducted phone interviews with 200 ex-gays. His paper reported that "66 percent of the men and 44 percent of the women had arrived at what [Spitzer] called good heterosexual functioning." The gay community was outraged. The APA disavowed the study. The ex-gay community was delighted and used the study as proof that their programs worked. Spitzer saw how his study was being misused as was horrified. In 2012 he asked for a retraction. He said the study had a fatal flaw, that there was no way to tell whether the subjects in the study were telling the truth. And because of the general disapproval of homosexuality at the time many subjects in the study had a good reason to lie.

Still a skeptic

My friend and debate partner replied to my post from yesterday on global warming. He wrote:
"...the sun activity is at a maximum and is about to drop. The global temperature of the earth is about to plummet – at a time when the hysterical (their word) world is preparing for rapid temperature rise."

Uh... I'd expect the sun's relative cooling to happen slowly, so earth temperatures are unlikely to "plummet". Also, I have not heard of this sun-about-to-cool claim anywhere else; I am skeptical of it.
The word "plummet" may not be the best, though it still might be appropriate when considering climate timescales. The claim was that our world will be significantly cooler by 2030. They compared it to the winter of 1658 when Sweden's army marched across a frozen strait and captured Copenhagen. This was at the coldest of the Little Ice Age.

As for that "sun-about-to-cool" claim, I hadn't heard it before either. Is it true? Those making the claim say this is part of the sun's various cycles in energy fluctuation coming together. They also say climate on earth is much more sensitive (high correlation) to energy from the sun. And climate is insensitive (low correlation) to the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.

Skeptical of it? Good.

My friend continues:
Even if Kooistra had offered a case that temperature measurements were systematically wrong, I did not imply nor mean that all evidence for global warming is thereby invalidated.
This is one of the points Stan Schmidt, Editor of Analog Science Fiction and Fact made in his rebuttal to Kooistra, though I didn't mention it yesterday. Some bad data, when there is a great deal of other good data, does not invalidate the premise.
As we know, the global science community is overwhelmingly united in support of global climate change and presents broad evidence for it.
Indeed, they are and do. Yes, there is lots of evidence that the climate has become warmer over perhaps the last century. There is also lots of evidence that there has been a great increase in CO2 and other greenhouse gasses since the start of the Industrial Revolution. For about a century the correlation of the two has been high. But the research I linked to yesterday prompts the important question: Did all those climate scientists confuse correlation with causation? These researchers found much better correlation over a longer period of time between climate and sun energy levels.

So will the correlation between global temperature and increasing greenhouse gasses continue as the sun's energy drops?

I'll rephrase my concluding point from yesterday. I can't tell which of these competing scenarios is correct. Perhaps I should be skeptical of both. But there are other reasons, mostly pollution, to reduce carbon emissions. I support the agreements that recently came out of Paris, even if the science behind it might be wrong.

Saturday, December 26, 2015


Back at the end of June I wrote a post discussing skepticism of global warming. My reference was "Lessons From the Lab" by Jeffrey Kooistra. It was the Alternate View column in the November 2009 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact. Not everything from the magazine is online, though with a bit of searching I found this article, which I didn't include in my earlier post. Yes, I'm way behind in reading accumulated issues. I stopped buying new issues a year ago, though what I have should last me another 5 years.

I am writing this post a couple days after a string of cities from Florida to Quebec set record high temperatures.

Kooistra's main point is that the data on which the climate predictions are based aren't accurate enough to tell us much of anything. For example, can we trust data where the collection station was painted with whitewash and is now painted with latex paint? How about if the collection station is now near the exhaust of a new building's air conditioner? What about the case were a parking lot has been added near a collection station?

A couple days after that post my friend and debate partner replied. Part of what he wrote:
I'd be surprised if a relatively small number of stations having issues among two thousand reporting makes much difference in the trend that almost all of the warmest years on record have been very recent.
I replied:
The affected stations wasn’t “a relatively small number,” it was more like 90% of all stations.
My friend responded:
OK, looks like Kooistra has a case.

I'm finally up to the April 2010 issue of Analog. Both the "Editorial, The Rest of the Data" by Stanley Schmidt and the "Brass Tacks" letters column were rebuttals to Kooistra. Schmidt's main points.

* Once a systematic error is found (such as the change of paint) the data can be corrected for it.

* There are other sources that must be considered. These are used to collect climate data from before thermometers were invented and can confirm what thermometers say. These include measures of glacial and polar ice melt, sea level changes, earlier plant blooms, later fall colors, and bird species range (Carolina wrens now seen in New York).

Writers to the letters column made these points:

* We can see the level of CO2 in the atmosphere through history. It is now higher than any time in the last 300,000 years. It has to be doing something and we don't know all the ways Nature will react.

* Kooistra didn't visit enough of the collection stations to accurately say data from 90% of them was defective.

The last letter was from Kooistra, who said he would devote an upcoming Alternate View column to his reply. This is where having several years of issues already on my shelf came in handy. I could look through issues I haven't read yet to find Kooistra's response, which came in the September 2010 issue. He titled it "I Think, Therefore I Question." His main points:

* Kooistra worked with simple fluid systems and found it difficult to model them adequately. Climate models are much more complex. Our knowledge of how weather and climate work has too many gaps. The model's predictions must be treated with deep skepticism.

* One of the earliest demonstrations of global warming was the famous "hockey stick" graph that showed temperatures holding steady for may centuries then abruptly jumping upward. But, says Kooistra, this chart ignores the Medieval Warming Period, a time of prolonged higher temperatures that allowed the Vikings to settle Greenland.

* Kooistra mentions Anthony Watts of Watts Up With That who discusses in detail improper placement of temperature stations. As of early 2010 he had reported 88 dubious placements.

* While it is possible to correct for a change in the type of paint on a collection station, it is not possible to correct for a station near an AC exhaust.

* We have no way of knowing how much, if any, of the current warming trend is due to humans and how much is because of natural processes.

The reference to the hockey stick graph prompted me to search for it. I chose the link with the best image. That brought me to a page on the site Global Warming and the Climate. It indeed shows the hockey stick graph, gives a bit of background, and works through the criticism of that graph.

A big problem is: How to accurately estimate temperature in a time before thermometers were invented? One way to do that is through tree rings. The thickness of rings varies from year to year and using either really old trees or matching up inner rings from 20th century trees to outer rings in 18th century trees and working farther back one can get a pattern that spans 2000 years. The thickness of rings does show temperature … but it also shows drought and, important for the 20th century, level of CO2. So much for that idea.

After reading about what Global Warming and the Climate has to say about the hockey stick graph I went to the site's main page. Through various charts and discussion it lays out an alternate explanation. Temperatures don't correlate to CO2 and industrialization, but to sun activity. And for various reasons – which I'll let them explain – the sun activity is at a maximum and is about to drop. The global temperature of the earth is about to plummet – at a time when the hysterical (their word) world is preparing for rapid temperature rise.

Don't sigh in relief just yet. A colder era could be just as stormy and disastrous to crops as a hotter one, especially in India and Brazil.

Why haven't we heard about this pending drop into a mini ice age? This site blames it on mass media controlled by the Global Warming Industry, scientists and people like Al Gore who have staked their careers on global warming.

I'm well aware of media controlled by such things as the Diet Industry. Everyone, including doctors, insist that to be healthy one must be thin. That's in spite of the lack of evidence, an idea I've been exploring over the last year.

One one side of the diet debate is the strong and powerful Diet and Food industry. On the other side are some pretty weak voices. But that's not true of the climate debate. On one side is this supposed Global Warming Industry. On the other is the Oil Industry. Both appear to be heavyweights, though I would have thought the Oil Industry to be the champion, able to get the GOP to do its bidding, even though the Global Warming Industry supposedly controls the media.

Who to believe? Though I'm well versed in science both sides can make claims and counter claims backed up by charts, diagrams, and language that leave me confused. Or they both use shrill language I now view with suspicion. In short, I can't tell.

On to the next question. What should we as a world be doing? Does dropping temperatures mean I could buy a gas guzzler SUV (not that I want one) without guilt? We can ignore all those global warming pledges from the recent Paris conference? We should stop production of wind turbines and invest heavily in the Alberta tar sands? I should turn up the thermostat of my house to a balmy 74F?

Well, no. While much of the policy, at least in America, has been driven by the thought of global warming, the use of petroleum products also comes with a great deal of pollution – as Beijing is learning. Even if we don't overheat our world we can still poison it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Oh, the weather outside is not frightful

This year's El Nino in the Pacific Ocean is indirectly prompting a high pressure cell over Bermuda to pump hot tropical air northward. Florida to Quebec will see a heat wave. Many cities, such as Buffalo and Boston, will break their record high for Dec. 24 at midnight, and the temp will then rise through the day – yeah, the day's low will be higher than the record high. The interior of Quebec could see temps over 40F above normal.

2015 will be the warmest on record globally by a wide margin.

Showing America it has a big problem

Terrence Heath reports on the accomplishments of the Black Lives Matter movement.

* The Mapping Police Violence project documented who was killed by the 60 largest American police departments. 41 of the 60 killed blacks at a rate higher than their black population. 14 of these departments killed only blacks. High levels of violent crime did not correlate to likelihood that police would kill.

* The movement is challenging Democratic candidates, telling them clearly do something about this situation or we'll stay home on election day. Don't assume we'll vote for you because the GOP is so unwelcoming to us. Bernie and Hillary are listening and now speaking. The movement knows they will get a chilly reception in the GOP, so isn't wasting time there.

* They are asking candidates to support a specific 10 point plan that includes such things as community oversight of the police, limit the use of police force, use of body cams, demilitarization of police, and end for-profit policing (where the police dept. or the court system fund their budgets through fines).

* They are changing public opinion. A Pew poll in 2010 found 17% of respondents said racism in America was a "big problem." This year that number is 50%. Up through last year an average of five police officers were charged with murder or manslaughter every year. This year it was 15.


This would be entertaining if it wasn't dangerous. Remember that federal budget I mentioned yesterday that included funding for Planned Parenthood? Evangelist Franklin Graham (heir of Billy Graham) is incensed enough over it – both that PP thing and the whole budget just way too big – that he is leaving the Republican Party. Apparently the GOP is too willing to compromise and too moderate.

But he'll still vote for Trump.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin is quite the homophobe. Even so, he has issued what will likely be known as the Kim Davis order, named for the county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Bevin's executive order is that the name of the clerk is no longer required to be on marriage licenses. One problem, pointed out by the ACLU, is that Bevin doesn't have the authority for such a change – the legislature would have to do it.

Yesterday I reported that marriage (or even relationship) equality failed in Austria, Romania, and Slovenia. I'm happy to report that a bill allowing civil unions passed in Greece. The vote was 194-55. Greece is caught between the European Union demanding same-sex relationship equality and the Greek Orthodox Church's fierce opposition. So there will be civil unions, but not many rights (such as adoption or pensions) to go with them.

An anti-trans group Privacy for All didn't get enough signatures to get their proposal on the ballot in California. The bill would have required trans people to use bathrooms for their biological sex unless they had undergone reassignment surgery. So the bathroom wars won't be coming to Calif.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Need quality education

Remember Malala Yousafzai? She is the young girl shot because she insisted girls needed to attend school and then became the youngest Nobel laureate when she won the Peace Prize. She has a few things to say to Donald Trump:
The more you speak about Islam and against all Muslims, the more terrorists we create.

It's important that whatever politicians say, whatever the media say, they should be really, really careful about it. If your intention is to stop terrorism, do not try to blame the whole population of Muslims for it because it cannot stop terrorism. It will radicalize more terrorists.

If we want to end terrorism we need to bring quality education so we defeat the mindset of terrorism mentality and of hatred.
Said as GOP lawmakers across the country work to cut funding to schools.

Hypocrites or fools?

Terrence Heath wrote:
But it takes a special kind of leader to take that fear, distill it into hatred, and fill us up with it. Donald Trump proved himself just that kind of leader when he supported a registry of Muslim-Americans, special ID badges for Muslims, and finally promised to ban all Muslims from entering the US. If you think those ideas sound vaguely familiar, you’re right.
So can we call him and his supporters Fascists yet?

Five children of gay parents sued the Austrian government saying that they were being stigmatized because their parents could not marry. The Administrative Court in Vienna ruled against them, saying in part children of unwed parents no long face much social criticism. Appeals to national courts are now possible.

The Romanian Parliament soundly defeated a bill that would have granted civil unions. It was strongly opposed by the Orthodox Church. The bill was introduced by Green Party president Remus Cernea. He is also calling for strict separation of church and state.

The Parliament of Slovenia passed marriage equality last March. The Catholic Church and conservative groups demanded a referendum. It was voted down with 63% against. Thank Pope Francis.

Remember all that noise from various GOP Congresscritters demanding Planned Parenthood be defunded. Didn't happen. That huge budget bill recently passed includes full funding of Planned Parenthood. With such loud kvetching from the GOP, how did we manage that? Robert Kuttner, in Huffington Post, wrote that (1) Dems held firm. (2) The GOP read the polls that say 60% want PP fully funded. (3) Speaker Ryan told his party that they could not withstand the bad publicity of another gov't shutdown. (4) PP and its leader Cecile Richards are astute political players.

In a second part of his column Kuttner poses a question to ponder. The GOP is all for openly carrying guns into all types of venues. Will they allow guns in their nominating convention in Cleveland? Ohio is an open-carry state. If attendees must check guns at the door they are hypocrites. If they admit guns they are fools – one can imagine a shootout between Trump supporters and Cruz supporters. Maybe reporters need to pack heat.

Kuttner adds condemnation of the interest rate hike by the Fed. The Fed had said they were raising rates to keep inflation in check – but according to their goals inflation is too low. Besides, the job market is softer than it looks. The official unemployment rate of 5% doesn't include those who have stopped looking for work or in a job with too few hours. The Feds said the markets expected the raise. In response, the markets tanked.

Can't gerrymander statewide elections

There's something about the Michigan GOP and December. Power grabs used to be confined to years with a lame-duck legislature. Not anymore. These guys must be getting desperate. Well, there is a prez. election next year and the GOP hasn't figured out how to gerrymander statewide elections, which as a whole tends to vote Dem even if districts are rigged to keep the GOP in control of the legislature.

This year's power grab started a few months ago with a push to do away with straight-ticket balloting – mark one box or pull one lever and vote for all the candidates of one party. Of course, the GOP knows this feature tends to be used more by Dem voters than GOP voters. City and County clerks didn't like eliminating it because that would slow down voting, meaning longer lines. Translation: Dem leaning voters would look at the lines or the length and complexity of the ballot and decide not to vote.

Democrats responded by demanding no-reason absentee voting. For a while a bill to grant that was linked to the bill banning straight-ticket voting. Of course, the GOP started putting restrictions on getting an absentee ballot – requesting a ballot must be done in person and clerk's offices aren't allowed to be open on weekends. But key GOP senators didn't like that so the whole absentee thing, including restrictions, was unlinked and dropped.

On the last day of the session for the year the state Senate was about to adjourn when a message came from the House. Could you stick around for a while? We may have something you might like.

Brian Dickerson, an opinion columnist for the Detroit Free Press, wrote:
For 5½ hours, Republican state legislators personified the government they have spent the last several years warning us about: arrogant, contemptuous of its own rules, indifferent to public opinion and focused single-mindedly on the preservation of its own political power.
The final bill contained these GOP goodies:

* End of straight-ticket voting (without the no-reason absentee changes). This is something Michigan voters have twice said they want to keep.

* A reduction in the paperwork that Political Action Committees need to file (well, maybe, Dems thought this was a good idea too).

* A change to that PAC filing deadline so it comes after the election.

* Strengthening of several provisions of the Citizens United case the Supremes decided in 2010 that opened the floodgates to campaign cash. None of those provisions included having to disclose donors.

* A ban on public officials using public money to issue any kind of communication about a local ballot question in the 60 days before an election. Translation: Your local school board may put a millage renewal on the ballot then be banned from explaining why it is necessary. Yeah, that means the only groups that are able to tell you about local proposals are those corporate PACs.

One key part of this process passed by one vote and that was one Democratic vote. Virgil Smith of Detroit faces felony assault charges, but the GOP is allowing him to keep his seat at least until the trial. His votes reflect his hostage status.

The revised bill with all those goodies passed both the House and Senate. It is on Gov. Rick Snyder's desk. He is GOP but hasn't said what he will do with it beyond "study" it. Lots of groups, when they aren't busy with holiday plans, are urging Snyder to veto the mess.

As for the GOP legislators, their holiday shopping is done.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Greatest country

Melissa McEwen of Shakesville is annoyed with GOP talking heads and their repeated refrain that America is the greatest country. Some even add the tag "in the history of the world." McEwen replies:
Maybe that's true, if one is an obscenely wealthy, straight, white, cis, able-bodied white man with a suit that renders him impervious to random gun violence. So, like, if you're Iron Man.

But most of us aren't Iron Man.
Many who are poor, female, of color, gay, trans, or disabled might object to that "greatest country" trumpeting. The usual pushback to that is your kind of people have it worse in other countries.

The pushback and the original claim ignore that while America might be the greatest, it can still be improved.

Another aspect of this "greatest country" nonsense is that many women (and poor, of color, gay, trans, etc.) don't know about rights they would have in many other countries. At the top of the list is abortion being treated as a woman's basic health care.

Be suspicious of a man telling you this is the greatest country. He's likely plotting ways to make our lives worse.

You are fine

The ex-gay organization JONAH (Jews offering New Alternatives to Healing) was sued in 2013 by former clients claiming fraud. JONAH offered services and made promises (make a patient straight) they could not fulfill. In June of this year a jury determined that fraud had indeed been committed. The judge has now entered his order. JONAH shall cease operations in thirty days, dissolve as a corporate entity, never practice counseling for sexual orientation, and pay plaintiff's attorney's fees of $3.5 million. One more ex-gay group is gone.

Matt Barrett accepted a job as a manager in the food services of Fontbonne Academy, a Catholic girl's high school in Massachusetts. He filled out the emergency contact form and under relationship he put "husband." The job offer was withdrawn. Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) sued the school. And won. The court ruled the school was not exempt from the state's non-discrimination laws when the job has nothing to do with religion. A sweet legal precedent.

Ragen Chastain of Dances with Fat is well aware that fat people are constantly bombarded with messages that they are supposed to be thin. It can be a struggle to not succumb to the barrage from the Diet and Beauty Industries. She starts with a motto: "The World Is Messed Up. You Are Fine." She also suggests mantras, such as "These are not the body image messages you are looking for." Though for a delightful image of a busy cat you'll have to follow the link.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Data mining and gay rights

There is a big debate amongst the big gay rights organizations in Michigan. Should we push for a voter-led constitutional amendment to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity? Some point to recent polls saying gay rights have a 68% approval rating. The support runs across Dems, GOP, and independents, all age groups, and all church goers.

An article by Jan Stevenson in Between the Lines looks at another way to determine if Michigan is ready. The technique is modeling. It has been used by several campaigns and has shown to be more accurate than polling. It uses data mining methods used by marketers. It collects a huge amount of data on voters, such as what groups they belong to, what magazines they buy, and education levels. It also takes in data from the Michigan Democratic Party Voter Activation Network. It adds in likely turnout, and crunches the numbers.

For this issue in 2016 it predicts a yes vote of only 42%. That means we have to change the minds of 365,000 voters by next November to win. And that means about 100 full time field organizers starting now. It means talking to 3.6 million voters, much of it in face-to-face conversation. All together it means 22 million contacts through direct visit, mail, phone, etc. The cost (from another article) might be as much as $22 million. Do we have those resources? Probably not.

So should we go with the poll data, which suggests a comfortable margin of victory and implies we go for it, or do we go with the modeling data, which suggests 2016 isn't the time?

Another David and Goliath musical

Last night I went to see the show Newsies playing at the Opera House. Back in 1992 the movie Newsies was released by Disney. Don't worry if you didn't see it. Few did. But after it came out on DVD (or was this still the VCR era?) it developed a cult following. So Disney turned it into a stage musical a few years ago and it did quite well. It was nominated for several categories for the Tony Awards and Drama Desk Awards, winning both for Best Choreography and Score.

I decided to see it partly because nearly all of the dancers are young men (what's not to like?) and partly because the plot revolves around how the newspaper boys build a community. They form a union and strike when the price of they must pay for papers is raised. Another David and Goliath story (they even use that phrase), a story about the rich oppressing the poor.

Overall, I enjoyed it. The dancing was great. The singing was too (though loud Рthey really didn't need to mic the actors). The set was quite interesting Рthree towers made of girders with stairs inside were moved forward and back with sections of screen that unrolled and various backdrops projected on them. But it was still Disney, especially in the plot Рit was somewhat clich̩d and predictable.

For example... Last April I saw the musical Urinetown. It was also about the rich oppressing the poor. The cliché: both shows have the daughter of the corporate owner becoming disgusted with the unscrupulous way her father does business and falling in love with the leader of the uprising.

Because there is such a following of the movie on DVD the Opera House was close to sold out. The audience was quite enthusiastic. And the guy sitting two seats away sang along with a couple of the songs.

In a promotional article for the show it said for the 1992 movie they had to scrounge to get enough young male dancers. Again, because DVD was so popular, when the stage show was announced young male dancers flocked to the audition.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


Guernsey, a small British Crown dependency in the English Channel not far from the French coast, has approved same-sex marriage by a vote of 37-7. Bills to introduce civil unions instead were defeated by as wide a margin. Implementation won't be before 2017.

Whose fault is it that Donald Trump is the leading GOP candidate for prez. and scaring the bejeebers out of the establishment Republicans? Liberals would say the GOP has encouraged anger at Obama and the Dems for about 8 years now and there is that Southern Strategy thing covering almost 50 years. Trump is simply the embodiment of that anger and racism.

And what do those establishment Republicans say is the cause of the rise of Donald Trump? Why, it is the same thing that is the cause of everything that is wrong with the country: Barack Obama.

I had written about how successful the anti-gay campaign was against the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). This is the one based on accusing trans people of being bathroom predators. There is a new poll that shows how successful that nasty campaign was. Suppose the HERO bill was reintroduced and didn't include gender identity, would you vote for it? 49% said no, only 35% said yes. The results also implied that voters think gender identity protections are only about bathrooms. At the very least the Houston city council, when they try protections for us again, will need a new name for the ordinance.

Lesbian couple VL and EL (names not disclosed) had been together for quite a while. EL gave birth to three children. They moved from Alabama to establish temporary residency in Georgia so that VL could adopt the kids. Several years later the couple broke up. VL sued for visitation rights. EL refused. The case went to the Alabama Supremes, who ruled that since VL and EL were not married in Georgia that state mistakenly gave joint adoption to VL. She took the case to the US Supremes. They sided with VL, blocking the Alabama court's order to declare the adoption to be invalid.

Melissa McEwen of Shakesville presented this scenario: A white man is spotted walking along the side of the road. He has a pistol in a holster. A couple questions:

Since he is white things are apparently cool with the citizens who pass him and perhaps with law officials too. Would the same be true if he were black?

How does this situation coexist with Obama's request, "If you see something, say something."?

You will enrich us

I didn't watch the GOP debates last night. That would have caused severe dental problems due to gnashing of teeth. Besides, I had much more pleasant things to do. So I'm relying on the summary by Melissa McEwen of Shakesville. She wrote:
It was just a nonstop onslaught of violent rhetoric, as each candidate tried to convince US voters that s/he would be the most ruthless slayer of terrorists and civilians, the most bloodthirsty avenger, the most reflexive unleasher of mass killing in our names.

They literally don't see any other way to deal with anything besides killing. Am I talking about the GOP candidates or ISIS? … I don't understand how anyone can fail to see the bitter, horrifying irony of the candidates drooling to slaughter the slaughterers.

In contrast...

Since I live near Detroit I sometimes listen to the CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Their news reports include stories about how warmly Syrian refugees a re being welcomed, including how the Prime Minister personally welcomed refugees who got off the first plane. Tom Allen, the early afternoon host on CBC Radio 2 talked about how Canadians anticipate Syrian refugees and their music and culture will influence Canadian culture. Allan played a clip of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra playing a piece by Syrian composer Kinan Azmeh, who also played solo clarinet. They are saying you are welcome here. You will enrich us. Allan said that Syrian influence follows the pattern of incorporating Czech and Hungarian culture into the national mosaic when those people fled to Canada in the last century.

What is Canada doing differently? They elected a progressive government a few months ago. Alas, the previous conservative gov't was just as hostile to non-white immigrants and First Nation people as their American counterparts (though maybe not as loud).

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Yet all are heard

Back in 1964 the Supremes issued a ruling that included, "legislators represent people, not trees or acres." That ruling established the guideline "one person, one vote" when drawing up Congressional and legislative districts. That has meant each district should have the same population.

The Supremes heard oral argumenets for the case Evenwel v. Abbot which asks the question: In "one person, one vote" what is a person? Everybody? Citizens? Or a voter, one legally allowed to vote (leaving out children and prison inmates)? Or maybe it should be a voter who actually votes – one who is registered and shows up regularly at the polling place? How regularly – every election (including school board and dog catcher) or is voting in presidential elections enough?

The plaintiffs are in Texas. They complain that if they are in a district with a lot of voters and compare that to a district with fewer voters even if both districts have the same population, then the power of their vote is diluted. They have less electoral clout. Their example: suppose the 31 districts for the Texas senate were drawn such that there was one voter in 30 of them and the last district had all the other voters. In 30 districts the single voter has total control of who is elected. In the last district a single voter is part of a much larger pool of voters and their one vote doesn't mean much.

In the real world plaintiff Sue Evenwel says her vote in the district she is in is only 40% as effective as it would be in an "ideal" district.

The three-judge panel at the District Court rejected the challenge, saying the Texas Legislature could follow whatever metric they wanted to satisfy "one man, one vote." The plaintiffs appealed to the Supremes.

Up to this point in reading about the case I had been puzzled about who was bringing (funding) the suit and what angle they were pushing. Put another way, I wondered how did conservatives or those angling for a corporate takeover figure out how this was going to benefit them.

But a discussion of the premises of the theories underlying the case, especially the second point made things a bit more obvious. Yes, they say, all constituents of a legislator have a right to contact their various representatives to express opinions and grievances. However, a right of access does not include a right of equal access. Those who vote should get preferred access. That's one scary idea.

Texas responded by saying things similar to the District Court – what metrics the legislature uses in creating districts is entirely up to the legislature. Yeah, this is Texas and the state has already gotten approval to do redistricting any time it wants (such as after the GOP gains majorities on both parts of the state legislature) rather than just after the 10-year census. So leaving the metrics of redistricting solely to the legislature also raises alarm bells.

But the state does have another good point. Population in a district is easy to count – the Census Bureau supplies those numbers. But frequency of voting and computations of vote strength would only tie the whole thing in court battles for years.

Now we get to the interesting stuff – which types of organizations filed supporting briefs for which side of the case. For the plaintiffs are conservative and libertarian groups. Their main arguments are that voting power has shifted to cities and cities tend to have large populations of people ineligible to vote. These are the same people pushing voter ID laws. Motivation is now clear.

On the side of Texas are liberal and progressive groups, including the Democratic National Committee. The express two major points. First is there isn't a metric to do what the plaintiffs want. Second, they quote from those who wrote the Constitution (though it doesn't appear this quote is in the Constitution). They...
decreed that the whole population is represented; that although all do not vote, yet all are heard. That is the idea of the Constitution.
A ruling will come sometime by the end of June.

Completely missing from the discussion was gerrymandering – intentionally making a district 55% GOP, which makes the votes of all Democratic voters essentially meaningless. That also "dilutes" the strength of my vote.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Tour an emergency trauma center

Rep. Stacey Newman of the Missouri House has introduced legislation that takes the same ideas and language used in bills preventing access to abortion and uses it to prevent access to guns. Some of the provisions in Newman's bill:
* Meet with a licensed physician to discuss the risks of gun ownership at least 72 hours before attempting to buy a gun and obtain a written notice approval.

* Tour an emergency trauma center at the nearest qualified urban hospital on a weekend between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., when gun violence victims are present, and get written verification from a doctor.

* Meet with at least two families who have been victims of gun violence and two local faith leaders who have officiated, within the last year, a funeral for a victim of gun violence who was under the age of 18.
You say you are pro-life? Enact this bill too.

I added a comment saying I used to think Congressional inaction in the face of all this gun violence was primarily to protect the profits of gun companies. I now think the reason is much deeper and scarier, such as people want guns to enforce patriarchy.

Commenter Widminter replied. Yes, gun ownership is used to enforce patriarchy, a neat side effect. But gun ownership is mostly about enforcing racism. And that goes back a long way.

Yet to meet a single man

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, has been named Time Magazine Person of the Year. The magazine cited two reasons. First, the resolution of the euro crisis (even if it pace was plodding). The second was her throwing open Germany's doors to refugees, which will probably top a million by the end of the year.
It was an audacious act that, in a single motion, threatened both to redeem Europe and endanger it, testing the resilience of an alliance formed to avoid repeating the kind of violence tearing asunder the Middle East by working together.

The British Parliament has a petition website. I think anyone can created a petition on the site. Parliament has said they will consider any petition that gets more than 100,000 signatures. In about a day 200,000 people signed the petition asking Parliament to bar Donald Trump from entering Britain.

The Boston Globe created a map of all the mass shootings in America in 2015 up to Dec. 2 (so it is including the San Bernadino attack). The data is from the Mass Shooting Tracker website. A mass shooting is an incident in which four or more people are shot. "By that definition, the U.S. has experienced 353 mass shootings this year, resulting in 462 fatalities and 1,312 people injured." That is about one mass shooting a day!

This article compares America with Australia. Commenters claim the data for Australia isn't correct. Even so, the mass shooting rate for Australia is much lower than for America.

Melissa McEwen of Shakesville has a few hints for men, especially men who want to be allies. If a woman says she hates men, don't correct her (oh, you must mean you hate male privilege). Instead, listen to her reasons. As McEwen put it:
It is work for me to build relationships with men. Even the men I love, and who love and respect me, require me to educate them on how not to replicate the patriarchal horseshit with which they were indoctrinated. I have yet to meet a single man who didn't harm me in some way, even if unintentionally, with misogyny.
So if a woman says she hates men it could be because she has been so harmed by so many men that she has no energy left not to.

Bernie Sanders has been campaigning on the statistic that the top one-tenth of one percent of US earners own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%. He's said it enough times that PolitiFact wanted to verify the numbers. Verdict: mostly true.

A new study by the Institute for Policy Studies, and reported by The American Prospect, says Bernie's statement is indeed true. Then it takes the numbers a bit further. The top 0.1% is about 300,000 people. Let's take a look at the top 20 people – Bill Gates, Charles and David Koch, Sheldon Adelson, Warren Buffet and such. These 20 people have as much wealth as the entire bottom half of U.S. earners (the phrasing makes me wonder if it excludes the poor who don't have jobs).

The study probably underestimates the wealth of those on top by about half because it doesn't take into account money held offshore.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Yes, it was terrorism

I just realized I missed my blog's birthday, which was three weeks ago. I've now been writing this blog for eight years. This is post 3060.

Another mass shooting, this one in San Bernadino. And it was nasty. I'll let you read other sources for details. I'll only discuss the issues swirling around the shooting.

In response to the attack on the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs the conservative media sphere did all they could to blame everyone but the shooter (gosh, you wouldn't think they'd blame gay people, would you?) and the straight white male supremacy that guided his actions. In contrast, after the San Bernadino shooting all the GOP prez. Candidates can manage is offering up thoughts and prayers. That prompted a string of tweets pointing out how much each GOP candidate has received from the NRA. And a front page from the New York Daily News saying "God isn't fixing this."

Melissa McEwen of Shakesville is annoyed that the San Bernadino shooting was talked about as an act of terrorism only after the shooters were tied to the Islamic State. Why wasn't the shooter at Planned Parenthood also described as a terrorist? Did one incident get the label because of ties to Islam? Did the other not get tagged by that word because it is in support of patriarchy?

Yup, another vote in Congress fails to do anything about controlling guns. A commenter suggests a headline like this might work: "Speaker Ryan Wants Terrorist to be Allowed to Buy Guns."

Also as usual, the GOP blamed the recent shootings on mental illness. Ryan even promised to move on legislation dealing with mental illness – as in reducing the funding to treat mental illness, restrict the rights of the mentally ill, and authorize coercive treatment programs. These provisions will not treat mental illness. They will only frighten the ill away from treatment. Besides, there is no research linking the mentally ill to gun violence. All this is a way to deflect attention from inaction on gun control.

A small ray of hope: The Supremes refused to hear a case about a ban on assault weapons. Back in 2013 Highland Park, Illinois banned residents from owning assault weapons. The Illinois State Rifle Association challenged the ban in the 7th Circuit and lost. They appealed to the Supremes. Since the Supremes aren't taking the case the ban is upheld. Only four justices are needed to accept the case. They may have gotten only two – Scalia and Thomas, who objected to not taking the case.

A month ago I wrote a post about evolution. As part of it I wrote that the peacock with the showiest tail gets the most mates. Frank McAndrew, professor of Psychology at Knox College and writing for Huffington Post expands on that idea. Young human males, about ages 17-30, are looking for status, a way to prove to mates they are worthy of mating. They compete with other males to show off their ability to acquire resources, show strength, and defeat challengers. Even reckless behavior was rewarded with status. To some extent modern sports is a safe way to demonstrate status.

For those without status and mates there is another way to come out on top – the gun. Elliot Rodger, who before he went on a rampage in 2014 said this about his first gun.
After I picked up the handgun I brought it back to my room and felt a new sense of power. Who’s the alpha male now, bitches?
That means there is a precarious manhood and a Young Male Syndrome – men in their 20s are six times more likely to be murdered than women of the same age. Would that be the same if they simply didn't have access to guns?

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Racist candidate for racist voters

Rick Perlstein of the Washington Spectator took a look at why Donald Trump has been getting consitently high poll numbers. Part of it is because Trump had considerable name recognition from being Top Dog of the TV show The Apprentice (according to Perlstein it is mean and absurd and highlights that to Trump everything is about The Deal). Perlstein concludes that Trump supporter like Trump because he, like them, hates the weak.

Amanda Marcotte writing for Alternet goes way beyond Perlstein. Hates the weak? That's just the beginning. A large portion of Trump's supporters are racists and are attracted to his racism. He validates their racism – if a candidate for prez. can say such things than I have his permission to be racist. He is promising to stop and reverse the fall of the straight white male from the top of the food chain (good luck with that).

Marcotte also notes that Democrats formed their coalition through compromise and tedious discussion. The GOP coalition is held together through a demand for a singular, lockstep view of issues. There can be no difference in opinion. That means candidates must rush to prove they follow the party line more closely than any other candidate. And Trump does that best. This lockstep view is great for Fox News, but not so good for the GOP party – or the country.

60 years

It has been a busy week. The usual stuff Monday to Wednesday, the usual trip to handle Dad's affairs on Thursday, my performance group playing on Friday, and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra doing a dynamite performance of Mahler's Symphony #2 last night.

Bits of news from the week:

Michigan state House representative Tom Hooker (R), is introducing a resolution calling on the state to reclaim its sovereignty by not recognizing the decision by the Supremes that allows same-sex marriage. Hooker said, "The Supreme Court is not a Legislature. Courts do not substitute their social and economic beliefs for the judgment of of legislative bodies or elected and passed laws." Well, actually, the Constitution says the courts do impose their beliefs over legislatures and passed laws.

We've known GOP candidates intend to "stack" the Supremes with as many hardcore conservatives as possible (see: Alito, Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas). Ted Cruz is now making that a part of his reasons to vote for him. He will make sure there are no "squishies" (not Cruz's term) such as Brennan, Warren, Stevens, Souter, and Blackmun who were nominated by GOP presidents and sided with liberals on important issues. Warren and Stevens even led the court's liberal wing. Cruz forgot to mention Kennedy as someone who doesn't follow the party line.

Just remember that if Cruz ever gets his way a future court will gut same-sex marriage and the Affordable Care Act, end minimum wage, and dissolve federal oversight of the environment. For starters.

I had told you about Alabama closing most of its driver's license offices, targeting those in areas with a high black population. The NAACP has now brought a suit against the state.

It has now been 60 years since Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus. That has brought out stories about how much of a freedom fighter Parks was before that bus ride. It is a story we seldom hear. What we usually hear is that Parks was tired that day. That often told misconception prompted Melissa McEwen of Shakesville to write:
It's only tempting to exploit time to de-radicalize Rosa Parks' (and other black women's) lives and actions if one seeks to conceal the oppression that necessitates their radicalism.
Translation: Don't mind Rosa, such a sweet lady. She just had a bad day. Nothing to see here.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

I'm the authority on me

A bill has passed the US House with a veto-proof majority to restrict Syrian refugees from coming to America. I had said before that this kind of persecution of Muslims (indirectly – by refusing shelter from terrorists) is exactly what ISIS wants. The debate has now shifted to the Senate, where Elizabeth Warren said,
We are not a nation that delivers children back into the hands of ISIS murderers.
There is fear the bill will also pass the Senate with a veto-proof majority.

Over many years Melissa McEwen of Shakesville has been pushing back against the Diet Industry. One of the ideas she objects to is that fat people all get fat the same way and a standardized diet will work for all people. She is also annoyed that fat researchers discount what fat people say – if you say you are following this diet and still gaining weight, then of course you're lying.

A new study shows what McEwen has been saying. A food that doesn't prompt weight gain in one person might prompt weight gain in another. Our bodies are not the same. It is annoying that fat researchers never listen to fat people and we need evidence such as this study to get permission to be authorities on our own lives.

Yes, it took a long time before doctors and psychologists realized that gay people were the authority on gay people.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Flatter than Kansas

When someone remarks about land being flat, most people think of Kansas. Yes, back in 2003 research was done to show that Kansas is flatter than a pancake. But Florida, Illinois, North Dakota, Louisiana, Minnesota, and Delaware are flatter than Kansas. (West Virginia was determined to be the most unflat – Alaska and Hawaii weren't studied.) The flatness of Kansas has another little problem. The west side of the state is 3360 feet higher than the east side. Kansas may be flat, but it isn't level. An anonymous cartographer created a map to show what a level Kansas would look like. We'd only have to move 5500 cubic miles of earth from west to east – and watch out for the 900 foot bluff in the middle of Kansas City. But why? It would fulfill this little bit of prophecy from Isaiah 40:4: "Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain."


Indiana Senate Republicans have introduced a bill to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state's civil rights laws. But don't cheer yet. It still has exceptions for religion that are way too broad and institutes fines for "frivolous" discrimination complaints. It would also trump any local laws. That means LGBT people would be included in the state law under a different set of rules than other minorities. The bill did not simply add "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the existing law. We would still be discriminated against. The first clue to read the bill carefully was that GOP senators introduced it. The second clue was that at the time the bill was introduced the Indiana Pastors Association was holding a prayer vigil and rally against our rights at the Statehouse. Do we even need a third clue? How about what looks like a t-shirt with "LGBT" but underneath isn't Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender, but "Let God Be True."

Didn't Indiana learn anything from the smackdown they got last March with their previous religious freedom act? Apparently not. However, this bill may not get far – conservatives think it gives gay people too many rights.


The parliament in Cyprus has approved civil partnerships. The legislation does not include adoption rights. The bill passed 39-12 with 3 abstentions. An effective date has not yet been set.

In Europe 14 nations have legalized same-sex marriage (though not in effect in all yet), 9 have civil unions, and 8 nations along the eastern edge of the continent have no recognition of same-sex couples.

Canada has laid out plans to accept more Syrian refugees. Families, women, children, and gay men will be welcomed. Straight men traveling alone will likely be excluded. Interesting... a case where there is an advantage to being gay.

According to Pew Research white Christians now make up less than half of the US population. The only place white Christians maintain a steady and solid majority is in the GOP where 70% of those who identify or lean towards the GOP are white Christians. This is part of why they feel backed into a corner and are lashing out.

The Federal Elections Commission produced a map of America in which states are colored by the majority of their delegation in the US House. All is red except the western coastal states, the northeast, and Minnesota, Illinois, and New Mexico. Yeah it makes the red menace look overwhelming. But is the GOP a healthier party than the Dems? The map does not represent the size of the delegations (California would be huge and Montana smaller than Rhode Island) and does not show the size of each state's majority. Click on the link and scroll down as a commenter has supplied a cartogram that does show the relative size of the delegations. The GOP healthy? Maybe not. But they are good at gerrymandering, suppressing the vote, and pulling all kinds of other election tricks.

I missed mentioning Transgender Day of Remembrance held each November to commemorate those transgender people killed in the last year. The number is up this year, though part of that is likely better reporting. For this year's Day of Remembrance trans artists have created a bunch of wonderful posters.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Shot, beaten, gassed

The GOP candidates for prez. have been ranting about Muslim terrorists, wanting to smash ISIS to smithereens. But what about these terrorists?

* Abortion clinics vandalized in Louisville as well as Planned Parenthood clinics in New Hampshire, Washington state, California, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

* Jamar Clark, a black man in Minneapolis, was killed by police earlier this month. Black Lives Matter activists protested outside the police station. White "counterprotesters" tried to shut down the protests, then fired into the crowd, hitting five. Fortunately, no deaths. With casualties on their doorstep the police turned their backs.

* Laquan McDonald was murdered by Chicago police a year ago. The release of a video of the shooting and the indictment of the officer for murder again brought out demonstrators. And the police's response was violence and aggression. Police also arrested a demonstration leader on trumped up charges.

* Mercutio Southall Jr. stood up in a Trump rally and shouted "Black lives matter!" The white crowd attacked him as Trump shouted for him to be thrown out. The crowd chanted "All lives matter!" Southall later wrote:
So for all the people who are still confused at this point, they proved what 'all lives matter' meant. It means, 'Shut up, n*****.'"
There have also been many protests at various colleges and universities around the country. I commend them and am glad to see them standing up. Most of what the black students want is safety, something rather basic.

Melissa McEwen of Shakesville catalogs the events – the acts of terrorism – over the last couple years perpetrated by white supremacists, some of whom are police. And still many white people refuse to see a connection between these events, declaring them to be isolated incidents. McEwen extends her catalog from the big things to the everyday things:
And school segregation, and job discrimination, and housing discrimination, and wealth inequality, and pay disparity, and mass incarceration, and municipal violations, and fair legal representation, and the disproportionate application of the death penalty, and lack of meaningful visibility, and unequal opportunities, and access to healthcare, and millions of microaggressions, and white people (and other non-black people) doubting whether anti-black racism really still exists and auditing the ways black people try to address it and accusing them of looking for things to get mad about and screaming BOOTSTRAPS at them and calling them oversensitive.

McEwen quotes her friend Dan Solomon:
Okay, here is the thing about Black Lives Matter protests and all the I'm-just-a-reasonable-white-guy whining about how the kids are all way too sensitive and don't deserve their "safe spaces" -- the space outside of a fucking *police station* in Minneapolis wasn't safe. If they want to talk about the way that black lives are at very real risk in this country, they are at risk of being fucking *shot* for it. The idea that they're not equipped for the "real world" because they want safe spaces on their campuses when the world tells them over and over again that they don't get safe spaces, that a space that is super safe for someone like me is actually dangerous as hell for them, is such heavy, condescending bullshit that anybody who spouts it should have fucking asphyxiated by now.

Every time black protesters go to the street to talk about this, they are aware that they are not safe. They get shot. They get beaten. They get gassed. They are aware that they get shot and beaten and gassed. They are *willing* to get shot and beaten and gassed. It's not because their tactics are too aggressive or they snatched a mic from Bernie fucking Sanders, it's because the world is filled with racist people who will shoot and beat and gas them. Motherfuckers, you'd want a "safe space" too.
Hey, all you GOP candidates, want to do something about terrorism? Forget about the Muslims coming into this country who might carry out some act of terrorism. Instead, look at the white supremacists who are already in the country and already are carrying out acts of terrorism. Oh, wait – this is your political base? So then you're promoting state sponsored terrorism.

The Democratic National Committee has a new video out: Inciting Fear Isn't Presidential. Using the phrase "Islamic Jihadists" is an oversimplification and wrong. How does the DNC know? Because George W. Bush said so.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sponsor a Syrian refugee

More than a week has passed since the terrorist attacks in Paris. Much of what we've been hearing in America has been state governors (including the one in Michigan) wanting to pause the acceptance of Syrian refugees. We've also been hearing a lot from GOP prez. candidates on which one will be the biggest badass ready to blow ISIS to smithereens. Terrence Heath has been keeping tabs on what conservative have been saying.

According to Heath and Melissa McEwen of Shakesville, among many other voices, these candidates and many conservative voices are giving the terrorists exactly what they want. McEwen quotes ISIS literature to explain. The goal of ISIS is to destroy the "grayzone" of what they see as half-hearted Muslims. Their plan is to attack the West and get the West to retaliate, not just against ISIS but to get the Islamophobia pot boiling and attack Muslims in general. Thus these moderate Muslims would be radicalized and pushed to join ISIS, resulting in an all-out holy war of Muslims against Christians.

And what are all these GOP candidates doing? Getting the Islamophobia pot boiling so that ordinary Americans have the political cover flaunt their bigotry and make life rough for Muslims in America and elsewhere in the West. They are the best recruitment tool that ISIS could ask for.

McEwen adds:
What happened in Paris isn't because of the refugee crisis, it's why the refugee crisis exists in the first place.
The refugees are fleeing the Middle East to escape the people who planned and carried out the Paris attacks. They are fleeing because most of the those killed by ISIS are Muslims, ones ISIS considers too moderate and accommodating.

Military strikes that kill civilians, fearmongering, and shutting the door on refugees means adding to the violence these refugees are trying to escape. That only escalates the violence, it doesn't lead to its end.

So what should we do? How about putting our Christian values to work? The central message of the Bible isn't "No room at the Inn." Want to defeat ISIS? Sponsor a Syrian refugee.

As for the nonsense that Muslim = terrorist, meet Adel Termos of Beirut who tackled a terrorist so the bomb being detonated killed only the bomber and Termos and not a host of others.

Or consider the story of Arnesa Buljusmic-Kustura and Laila Alawa, who describe how thoroughly they were vetted before coming to America.

Fortunately Obama appears to understand that and isn't spouting the "smash them to smithereens" rhetoric. I'm glad he's the Commander in Chief right now.

Alas, the fearmongering done by the GOP candidates is no match for Obama's quiet style. 53% of Americans want the program to welcome Syrian refugees to be suspended.

I'm not sure where I read this (and can't find the link), but it resonated me. My version: There are some who will put up with a higher threat of terror on American soil if it means more Syrians are welcomed and made to feel safe. There are some who won't, who insist there must be no possibility of terror, even if tens of thousands of refugees are caught in the war zone. There are some who will welcome higher taxes if it means all children, especially poor children, are given a good education and a chance at a job that will support them. And there are some who won't, who insist their money is for their use alone, no matter the plight of others. There are some who welcome higher taxes for a robust safety net, so all Americans are properly fed and sheltered, who recognize we are all made safer and all are enriched when all are cared for. And there are some who won't. There are some who recognize that gov't regulation protects all citizens from corporate predators, unsafe food, and pollution. And some who refuse to see.

M world is made better when we take in the refugee, educate even the poor, provide all with basic needs, and protect the environment. It is worthwhile even if I give up some safety and give up some coin. My humanity is at stake.

Arts relevant to Detroit

It has been a busy week, especially in the evenings when I tend to do my blog writing. I had the usual rehearsals on Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday I was at my usual place at the Ruth Ellis Center. I spent Thursday at my Dad's house (I found his baby book – first tooth, first steps, etc.). Friday I went to see a community theater play that a friend produced (went with the debate partner). On Saturday I attended a Detroit Symphony Orchestra concert. And this afternoon my performance group gave a concert.

Back to that play on Friday. North Rosedale Park is one of the top neighborhoods in Detroit, this one on the west side. Many of the houses are grand place built in the 1920s-30s. It is just east of Brightmoor, one of the worst neighborhoods. A few years ago my friend (not the debate partner) moved into a house in this neighborhood. He got a huge space for a low price, though had to do a lot of renovation.

One of the perks of living in North Rosedale Park is a functioning community center. This building is the focus of what is essentially neighborhood government, an association of owners that provides services the city can't. This civic center hosts a community theater troupe, the Park Players, that has now been going for over 60 years (started during Detroit's heyday). My friend has performed with this troupe a few time (I saw their production of The Addams Family Musical last spring with my friend playing one of the ancestors).

This fall he was asked to be the producer – the guy behind the scenes that expends considerable effort to keep track of details and make it all happen. The show was Twilight Los Angeles, 1992 by Anna Deavere Smith. The show is about the Rodney King beating, the trial of his attackers, the resulting race riots, and the federal trial. The author interviewed various people close to the incidents – King's mother, jury members, police commissioner, Reginald Denny (attacked during the riot), gang members, Korean shop owners (businesses damaged by the riots), a Latino man, various activists, a black US representative, a white Senator, and many others. The author assembled 35 of these verbatim monologues into the play. I heard later she performed all 35 roles herself in a one-woman show.

Most of the time there is one person on stage telling us their story. And they were powerful. For community theater, most of the 30 actors were quite good, a few were exceptional. A member of the original jury (acquittal of all four officers sparked the riots) told of the hate mail and threatening phone calls along with the revulsion on getting a letter from the KKK offering assistance. A Korean man explained he understood racism and slavery because so many Koreans had been enslaved in Japan. Reginald Denny told of the consequences of being attacked – pulled out of his truck and beaten. That was followed by an activist wondering why white man Denny was discussed so much in the news while all the black people beaten and killed were ignored. The best acting of the evening was by the woman playing a juror in the federal trial, the one brought by the Department of Justice for violations to King's civil rights. This actor, in telling her story, also portrayed several other jurors. This jury had to identify and work through its own racism before dealing with the charges at hand.

A very important and well done evening of theater. Alas, many of its themes are still relevant.

On Saturday evening, in spite of a snowstorm, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra performed a new piece Symphony in D by Tod Machover. Though the title refers to the key of the piece (at least I think so) it also refers to the city. I sometimes hear the phrase "in the D" referring something happening in the city.

Machover is a professor at the MIT medial lab. He leads an effort to combine music creation with technology. A few years ago he started a project to create a musical landscape of a city featuring orchestra and recorded sound. Toronto was first and Detroit was the fifth. For this one Machover asked people to record sounds of the city and submit them to his MIT lab. He was surprised at the 15,000 entries, a much higher number than the previous projects. Machover also spent several days each month over the last year meeting people in the city. A few of them were asked to appear to read their poem or tell their story as part of the performance. The orchestra also added an ethnic drummer, a couple guys on electric bass, and a Chaldean choir (there is a large Chaldean community in Detroit).

The piece lasted 30 minutes. Parts of it worked very well, though other parts weren't as successful. Most of the time I couldn't tell if the recorded sounds were being added to the mix. By my ears those sounds weren't added all that often. And the sounds I heard didn't seem to be all that much about Detroit. It would have been really cool to have factory sounds supply the percussion during a section of the piece. I'm not sure whether I didn't hear the factory over the sound of the orchestra or it wasn't included.

Overall I liked it. But if I had written it the result would have been quite different.

A week ago I raved about the opera The Passenger presented by Michigan Opera Theater. I'm not the only one who thought it was excellent. David Kiley of Encore Michigan thinks it may be the finest production the MOT has done in its 40 year history.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A night at the opera

Yesterday I went to see the Michigan Opera Theater presentation of The Passenger by Mieczyslaw Weinberg. It was written in the 1960s and first performed in 2010. I'll tell that part of the story in a bit.

The basic plot: Walter and Liese, a German couple are on their way by ship to Brazil where he will serve in the German embassy. But Liese sees someone from her past on the ship and it brings out secrets. Liese used to be an SS overseer in the women's barracks at Auschwitz. The woman she sees on the ship is Marta, from Poland, who helped Liese control the other prisoners, yet remained defiant. Liese is sure Marta had died. Yes, some of the scenes are in Auschwitz, showing how Marta interacts with Liese and how Marta takes care of and protects the international group of fellow prisoners, though she is only 20. She is called the Madonna of the Barracks.

Also at the camp is Tadeusz, Marta's fiance, though they don't meet until they've been there two years. They meet when Tadeusz goes to the room where Marta is sorting through luggage new arrivals are forced to abandon. The camp Kommendant wants Tadeusz to play a violin for him. Surely, there is a decent violin in all this luggage. But Tadeusz refuses Liese's offer to allow him and Marta to meet again because he refuses to be beholden to Liese.

The book on which the libretto is based is by Zofia Posmysz. She survived Auschwitz and later though she saw her overseer in Paris (though it turned out to be someone else). That idea prompted her book, though the situation is reversed – the overseer thinking she sees her former prisoner.

Some of Weinberg's relatives died in the camps. When he had a chance he escaped east to the Soviet Union. Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich was impressed with Weinberg's work and invited him to Moscow where the two became friends. Weinberg poured his heart into this opera. It was set to premier in 1968 – but that was indefinitely postponed because the authorities said it was contrary to the principles of Soviet Realism. So Weinberg never saw his masterpiece performed.

After Weinberg died many of his papers were sent to the West, including this opera. A consortium of opera houses, including ones in Austria, Poland, England, Spain, and Detroit put up the funding to get the opera staged, which was or will be performed in each city.

I found all aspects of the production to be the highest quality. The set was on two levels, the deck of a ship above and Auschwitz below. Around the central area that held up the ship deck was a circular railway track with two more tracks cutting through the circle and heading upstage. For some scenes there were rail carts that were pushed forward. For others two curved rail cars were moved from the side of the circle to the front. The top of one held the ship's cabin for Walter and Liese. The outside of the other was filled with cubbyholes that served as the beds for the women's barracks. Those train tracks did a good job of evoking Auschwitz, where prisoners arrived by train.

The music is quite modern and there aren't any hummable tunes, but it fits the story and text quite well. All of the singers were excellent. The libretto is in seven languages – Walter and Liese and her SS comrades sang in German. Marta and Tadeusz sang in Polish. The other women sang in their native languages – Russian, Czech, French, and Yiddish. There was a men's chorus that occasionally commented on the action that sat in the railcar that became the women's barracks. They sang in English. During scenes in the barracks they leaned over the edge and watched, not as voyeurs, but as witnesses. Yes, there were supertitles above the stage that translated everything.

Yes, some of the action was grim, but there were also many touching and beautiful moments, such as when the women care for each other, when they sang about their hopes for life after the war, when they sang about how they might choose to die, when one sings a song of her homeland, and in the epilogue when Marta exquisitely sings about keeping alive the memory of her friends who were murdered.

It was an excellent evening. I highly recommend seeing it. Three performances remain. During intermission an usher asked if I was enjoying the performance. I said this story isn't one that someone enjoys.

Identifying the worst evil

An apostate is one who formerly had religious beliefs and is now denying them. A pagan or infidel may never take up beliefs. But an apostate is seen as worse, one who believed and then rejected that belief. In many religions that is a reason for kicking out the apostate. For a few that is a good reason for stoning – professing you're one of the good people, then actively rejecting it has to be the worst evil.

To help identify the apostate the Mormon leadership has listed five sure signs of apostasy. The first is the expected, "Repeatedly act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders." Three more are in the same vein. And that last one: "Are in a same-gender marriage."

Yup, being gay and marrying the love of your life is a complete rejection of the Mormon religion and grounds for being shunned by those still in the church.

Because the gay couple are considered apostates, their children cannot be baptized as long as they live with the gay parents. And at the baptism they must renounce their parent's relationship.

These rulings by the leadership are not going down well with the membership. Yesterday there was a mass resignation from the Mormon church. About 1500 took part, many already disillusioned by the church. But the deciding factor was when the kids were affected.

Alas, there has been a dramatic increase in calls to suicide prevention hotlines.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

On the move

Nicholas Powers, writing for Truthout, makes a fascinating connection. After 9/11 Bush II began talking about the War on Terror with Bush talking about the evils of Islam. The Millennial generation, coming of age about that time, noticed that every evil thing Bush and others said about radical Islam was also reflected in American Fundamentalism. Gay rights? Nope. Women's rights? Of course not. Separation of Church and State?

Um, Millennials said, maybe we don't want to join your religion. So the push to demonize gay people backfired in this generation. Thus, says Powers, a result of that War on Terror is the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Yeah, I know, Millennials aren't the only ones who saw the Fundies as the American Taliban. But most of the rest of us already had an opinion of Fundamentalism.

This map shows the magnitude of the African and Middle Eastern refugees streaming towards Europe since 2012. Each dot represents 25 people – about half a bus – in motion. The dots don't show the torturous route taken by the refugees, only the movement from one central dot to another. Yes, there is a bright rush from Syria, especially in the last year, but there are also steady streams from Somalia, Nigeria, Russia (mostly in 2012) and, since they're off the map, I would guess Afghanistan and Pakistan, among many others.

A description of the state of a refugee camp in Calais, France prompted Melissa McEwen of Shakesville to write (emphasis in the original):
Every day, I see news articles and op-eds in which Serious People ask what is going to happen if Europe and the US help all of these refugees. And all I can think in response is: But what is going to happen if we don't?

Shortly after Paul Ryan took over the job of Speaker of the House, Chuck Todd interviewed Ryan and asked Ryan to name just one thing the GOP intends to get done in the next six months. Ryan responds with a list of thing that are wrong – poverty, foreign policy, Obamacare – but he doesn't say how the GOP intends to respond to any of them. Lots of complaints. No solutions. Likely intentional.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Quite the bomb

Michigan has finally passed a road improvement bill! Gov. Rick Snyder started calling for it four years ago, pegging the price of good roads at $1.2 billion a year. But the legislature, with a good chunk of them supporting a no new taxes pledge, couldn't seem to get it done. Yeah, there was that crazy attempt at a package of bills, including new taxes, that went before the voters. But that was so convoluted with gimmies for everyone that the voters roundly rejected it. So the legislature – after a change in personnel (there's that term-limit thing here) – went back to the beginning and tried again.

What they came up with is a big budget bomb.

On the good side $0.6 billion will be raised through a gas tax and vehicle registration fees. Yes, new taxes. But that will be ramped up slowly, not raising the full annual amount until 2018.

The other $0.6 billion comes from unspecified cuts to other things in the General Budget. And that won't happen until 2019. Why not next year? The delay means that all the legislators who approved this mess will, because of term limits, be gone and not have to be accountable to the mess.

Michigan's General Budget has already been through the wringer. One of many reasons: A few years ago the business tax code was "simplified" (read: canceled). That severely cut the budget, which by state law must balance. And here comes another round of forced cuts.

The biggest parts of the state budget are education, revenue sharing for cities to pay for public safety, and healthcare. The rest of the budget is too small to absorb a cut of $0.6 billion. So the top three get cut again. And again.

Once again, it is the poor who will lose out. They get stuck with a bad primary education and can't afford college, even if they could get in. The availability and affordability of healthcare is cut. The police and fire departments cannot keep up with the crime.

Snyder crows that the state economy is growing, so there will be more revenue and the hole in the state budget won't be that big. It's still bad finances and education and healthcare will still be cut. But there is one more goodie in this plan. If tax revenue increases faster than inflation than income tax rollbacks go into effect. So even if the state economy grows, the state budget can't.

So, let's see. The state roads are a mess. The money to fix them won't get to half strength until three years from now. It won't rise above half strength until at least four years from now. And then there will be forced cuts to things that poor people depend on. In the meantime the roads will continue to be a mess. And the perpetrators will be long gone – safely transitioned into lobbying jobs.

Quite the bomb.

Give me back my power!

Melissa McEwen of Shakesville noticed that a big theme of the Milwaukee GOP debate earlier this week was we must take the country back! This isn't a new theme. And when it is brought up an important question is: Take it back from whom?

Yeah, the usual suspects were trotted out. All these candidates promise to protect the conservative base from "the emergent menace of liberals, brown people, immigrants, atheists, feminists, same-sex couples, jihadists, socialism, and trans people in their bathrooms." Sigh.

Carly Fiorina caught McEwen's attention by giving a critique of Big Government and its deficit spending, corruption, and cronyism … and then using the evening's phrase the government is a mess and we must take it back!


Doesn't the GOP control the House, the Senate, and a large number of state legislatures? Doesn't the GOP usually get its way with this closely divided Supreme Court? Wasn't this a GOP debate? Wasn't Fiorina speaking to a GOP crowd? Which means she is urging the GOP to take back the government from … the GOP.

And nobody onstage heard the irony alarm go off.

David T.S. Jonas, writing for Alternet, provides a bit of background behind Fiorina's crazy statement. Fifty years ago power was held almost exclusively by straight, white, Protestant males with America as undisputed Top Dog. But in those 50 years there has been an expansion of economic and political rights for women, people of color, LGBT people, and immigrants. Power has been given to foreigners through free trade agreements and a global economy. In addition, the demographics are working against the straight, white, Protestant males.

And they're freaking out. They keep winning elections yet can't restore their status as Top Dog.

Democrats are also angry. Their anger is towards gov't that is stymied by corporate money. However, they know to make progress they need to form coalitions and to compromise.

But those freaked out white dudes can't compromise, because that means ceding more power to the people who, in their eyes, already have too much of it. They say give me back my power or nobody gets anything! You won't repeal Obamacare? We'll shut down the entire government! That means anyone seen trying to compromise has sold them out. Thus their anger is at their own party leadership, not at the Dems.

Rage like this usually burns out when the rest of the electorate pushes back. And when might this one release its hold on the government? Oh, around Nov. 8, 2022 – the first election after the next round of Congressional redistricting. At the moment Dems and moderates cannot make a difference in 90% of the districts (about 390 of 435 seats, some mapped so only Dems can win) because gerrymandering has been so successful. And that means the real battle for a seat is in the primary when voters tend to vote for the most conservative candidates. So we need to get busy about that gerrymandering thing.

Otherwise we could get to 2030 and conservative voters will still be saying Congress doesn't listen to the voters, even if the GOP controls it all.

I said this isn't a new theme, the freaking out of the straight, white, Protestant male. I wrote about it in detail back in September of 2010. In it I listed a large number of things the GOP and the Tea Party are doing to discredit democracy and maintain power. In reading through the list I see the GOP is still actively working on every item in the list. One that caught my attention:
Overturn gun laws to make sure the rabble is well armed. Imply that the opposition is so evil that eliminating them is a good idea.
The protection of the ability to carry guns is still a big issue. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder just vetoed a bill that required school districts to permit open carry of guns. He thought it should be a local issue.

I see this again as straight, white, Protestant dudes freaked out about losing power and are determined to get it back – even if it has to be at the point of a gun.